Thursday 10 October 2019

The Book and the Brotherhood by Iris Murdoch

Just as well I've been reading Moby-Dick in the lead-up to starting this book. Just like Melville, Murdoch loves to list and categorise things. In this case, Murdoch spent the first part of The Book and the Brotherhood listing all the characters, what they were wearing and how they were related or linked.

I had to draw myself a character tree to keep everyone in their rightful place!

It was kinda we watched a bunch of ageing college friends run around their old campus in a weird, debauched summer-time fling at their lost youth. We quickly realise though that they haven't really evolved emotionally very much from their youthful passions - with lots of whose sleeping with who, she said what? and he looked at me the wrong way kind of shenanigans.

I'm always amazed how Murdoch can create a story full of pretty unlikable characters, yet hold your interest at the same time. I guess it's her ideas and philosophy that intrigue. Maybe Oxbridge really is full of people just like the ones in this book, but it's hard to credit that there could be so many dithering, ineffectual intellectuals running around England, not really doing anything with their lives.

A couple of the men seemed to have some kind of vague government job, and of course, Crimond had his book to write, but everyone else just swanned around doing nothing but overthink, well, everything.

The entire cast of characters were so caught up in themselves that they constantly bounced from one catastrophic emotional drama to the next, inflicting harm on each other at an exhausting rate, with very little self-awareness and barely a public observance of contrition.

It's frustrating to get the end of this rather huge book, to find one of characters still saying 'other people are so mysterious'. No-one seems to have worked out anything. They all just keep on fluffing along, drifting in and out of things with very little purpose or decision.

But, perhaps, that's what we all do in the end.

During our lives most of us only have a few significant times when we might make conscious choices to change or do something differently. I suspect that many of us, do indeed, just drift along, waiting to see what will happen next, rather than acting decisively.

I could waffle on for several more paragraphs about the ideas and Murdochian tropes at play in The Book and the Brotherhood, but I'm too tired and I've had enough.
Today's conscious, purposeful act is to end this response here!

Favourite Character: Jenkin

Favourite Quote: that sums up my reading experience perfectly!
It was possible, he knew, to esteem and admire people and enjoy their company and dislike them heartily. It was also possible to be irritated, maddened and bored by people whom one loves.

Favourite of Forget: My favourite Murdoch so far.

Folly: I spent the entire month of September calling this book The Brook and the Butherhood. The spoonerism queen strikes again!

Fact: read for Lizzy's #IMreadalong @Adventures in Reading. This is her book review.


  1. A new story for me. Intriguing. Thanks for the review.

  2. I love this review! Yes, I think there ARE these people who drift around thinking and not doing much. But probably not so many as there have been in the past. And yay Jenkin - my favourite character in the WHOLE of Murdoch!

    1. Wow! That's a big call and big shoulder pat for Jenkin!

      Hopefully I'll have time to read all the responses for this book over the weekend. Work has been very hectic this month & I'm exhausted every very little weekday blogging at the moment.


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